How the Hen House Turns—Remembering Browny

How the Hen House Turns
Remembering Browny
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

Back on the California farm, sometime in the early 1940s, the neighborhood dog, a huge chestnut German shepherd named Browny, came to a tragic end.

As I reflect on my early years with animals, I realize that I celebrate his life for several reasons. Knowing him, accepting his way of life, impressed my six-year-old mind with the fact that dogs have personality and self-directed consciousness. Browny knew no master, but responded to us kids with interest and friendly respect.

We decided the big German shepherd really belonged to old man Madeiros, who lived across the dirt road (Madeiros Avenue) that separated his acreage from ours. But I think it was Mr. Madeiros who said Browny owned the neighborhood.

We met him soon after we moved into the 100-year-old redwood farmhouse set on a gentle rise beyond the apricot orchard. One sunny day, after exploring the creek below the house, my brother Harold and I had nearly reached the top of the hill when Boots suddenly stiffened beside us. Her tail stood quivering in its feathery semicircle and her ears stood straight up.

I gasped when I saw what had excited her. The huge “police dog” that had chased our car every time we drove down Madeiros Avenue was racing toward us across the mustard field. Hal made a grab for Boots and pulled her into his nine-year-old arms, but she jumped out of his grasp and dashed away to stand firm as the huge German shepherd ran up to her.

“Hey Browny, good dog. Come here, Boots,” Harold called.

Browny must have been at least three times Boot’s half-grown size. I had visions of the monster wolf foaming at the mouth and going after my helpless woolen baby. I didn’t notice that his tail was wagging. Boots was acting more like a coquettish vixen, however, racing sideways as if she enjoyed the touch of the big male’s nose. I did notice how tall she was—no longer the tubby ball of fur I remembered pulling at the end of the string Pa handed us on Christmas morning more than a year ago. She had long legs that nearly matched the size of her white paws.

“She’ll be all right,” Hal said, always the optimist. “She’s been spayed.”

I didn’t stop to think about what he meant, but Browny got the idea. He took one sniff of the pup who stood eagerly before him, allowed her the same privilege—and they took off across the field and through the orchard, romping and playing and biting each other lovingly in the jaws, as if they had been friends for life.

I called, but Boots paid no attention to me. She was all for Browny, suddenly all dog—a real dog, not a toy, who preferred another strange dog to me. They remained great pals for years, Browny coming and going at odd times, never interrupting Boots’ hunting times with Oscar the cat, wisely avoiding Oscar—who refused to be chased by dogs.

Then one day, the dog catcher came to visit, inquiring about the big black shepherd who was running loose. Somehow he managed to get a flat tire in our driveway, and while he was kneeling on the ground changing the tire, Browny decided to take a leak, all over the dog catcher. We tried to stifle ourselves, but it didn’t work. The next day we found Browny dead in the orchard. Pa was convinced he was poisoned.

Are we so proud, we humans, that we can’t see things from an animal’s point of view—even when the irony is so obviously humorous?

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